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Date: Dec 17, 2018

Moving to Bioplastics Will Not Necessarily Help Climate Change Study by the University of Bonn examines possible consequences of conversion to plant-based plastics

Bioplastics are often promoted as an environmentally and climate-friendly alternative to conventional petroleum-based plastics. However, a recent study from the University of Bonn suggests that shifting to plant-based plastics could have less positive effects than expected. Specifically, an increased consumption of bioplastics in the following years is likely to generate increased greenhouse gas emissions from cropland expansion on a global scale. The study is published in the scientific Journal “Environmental Research Letters”.

Die Grafik zeigt den prognostizierten Rückgang der Waldflächen in verschiedenen Regionen

Plastics are usually made from petroleum, with the associated impacts in terms of fossil fuel depletion but also climate change: The carbon embodied in fossil resources is suddenly released to the atmosphere by degradation or burning, hence contributing to global warming. This corresponds to about 400 million metric tonnes of CO2 per year worldwide, almost half of the total greenhouse gases that Germany emitted to the atmosphere in 2017. It is estimated that by 2050, plastics could already be responsible for 15% of the global CO2 emissions.

Bioplastics, on the other hand, are in principle climate-neutral since they are based on renewable raw materials such as maize, wheat or sugar cane. These plants get the CO2 that they need from the air through their leaves. Producing bioplastics therefore consumes CO2, which compensates for the amount that is later released at end-of-life. Overall, their net greenhouse gas balance is assumed to be zero. Bioplastics are thus often consumed as an environmentally friendly alternative.


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